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									Sarah Merette
EH590 Seminar
Were there differences in the internal commercial activities of Cochinchina and
Previous research has shown that there were substantial economic differences
between Tonkin and Cochinchina during French colonial rule. In this paper, we hope
to show that differences also existed in the internal commercial activities of the two
regions and that these differences highlight a different economic trajectory.
      Internal commerce is difficult to evaluate because it did not bring in customs
duties and as such extensive records were not made. Internal commerce in French
Indochina was either between the members of the Union, so in our case trade between
Tonkin and Cochinchina; or within a member of the Union, that is within Tonkin or
within Cochinchina. Both of these activities are important: understanding the extent to
which the two regions were integrated can help evaluate whether economic
differences will have a lasting effect; and understanding the commercialisation of
either one of them will also give us a better understanding of the independence of
each region. The problem with the availability of the data is that the authorities tended
to record only the movement of particular goods, that is the total amount or value of
particular goods, that were moved in the union – it was not relevant to them who used
what and where goods came from.
      Internal trade was mainly done through waterways or railways – roads were not
seen as enabling trade as much as movement of people1. The French made substantial
investment for public works in those two means of trade. However, because the
Trans-Indochinese railway was only completed in 1937-1938, internal trade between
Tonkin and Cochinchina could only be done via waterways, through cabotage routes.
Internal trade within Cochinchina was likely to use the extensive network of canals
rather than railroads. Conversely, internal trade within Tonkin was more likely to be
done through railroads2.
Between Regions
Because the Trans-Indochinese rail network was not completed until 1937-1938, and
because roads were not strongly used for transport of goods between regions, the key
way in which trade between the two regions would have occurred was through water.
Saigon was the first colonial French port to have both administrative and financial
autonomy 3 . From its establishment, Saigon was a deep water international port.
Haiphong, however, was a shallow water port that was initially a military port and
traditionally a docking point for ships engaging in ‘cabotage’, trade done on small
ships stopping along the coast4. Cabotage was only regulated in 1929 but from these
regulations, cabotage was defined mainly as ships going no further than 550 miles
though there was generally no limitations set on tonnage5. There were two types of
cabotage: national and international ranging from Burma to Korea 6. The traditional
route of international cabotage from (or to) Indochina was the following: from Saigon
to Haiphong, to Hong Kong and South China, then to the Philippines, Indonesia and

  BIB SOM D//1702 29
  Kham Vorapheth, Commerce et colonialisation en Indochine, 1860-1945. (Les Indes Savantes, 2004),
  BIB SOM D//1702 38
  Ibid, 38 & 17
  Ibid, 31
  Ibid, 32-33

    Sarah Merette
    EH590 Seminar
    finally Singapore7. Considering that cabotage could therefore involve some degree of
    international trade, evaluating the data can prove tricky. Nonetheless, it is the only
    available information to gain some perspective on trade between Tonkin and
          The following table, 1, displays information of cabotage for the years 1927 and
    1929. As we can see from this limited information, the quantity of goods entering
    Cochinchina through this means was significantly less than that entering Tonkin. The
    same is true with respect to exits. However, a striking difference appears in the value
    of the goods: the value of the goods imported in Cochinchina through this network
    was significantly higher than that of the goods imported in Tonkin, and this despite a
    lower overall weight. For Cochinchina, the overall value of the goods exported
    through this network was smaller than the value of goods imported, leading to a
    negative balance of cabotage trade for Cochinchina. For Tonkin, though the balance
    of cabotage trade in 1929 was positive, we can see that the value of the goods
    exported, while much higher than that of Cochinchina is not very high considering the
    quantity of goods exported. Indeed, per ton of goods, the exports of Cochinchina in
    1929 appear much more valuable than those of Tonkin. This could mean that much of
    what was traded through cabotage from Tonkin were heavy goods with low value,
    possibly mining products.
                               Table 1: Statistics on Cabotage
                            1927                                   1929
                      In           Out                    In                    Out
                                                              Value                  Value
                   Quantity      Quantity        Quantity    (1000s     Quantity    (1000s
                    (tons)        (tons)           (tons)    Francs)     (tons)     Francs)
Cochinchina        224409        139977           330471     643060     143567      531977

 Tonkin          455566        897165          485214      460707      676526     914595
 Source: 1927: Economic Bulletin of Indochina 1928; 1929: Section A Economic Bulletin of
                                     Indochina 1930.
           The problem with these statistics, however is that they do not show us the
    relationship between the two regions, nor do they show what kind of goods were
    traded between them. According to Vorapheth, Cochinchina mainly exported rice to
    Tonkin8. Tonkin on the other hand would export some silk as well as some other
    small quantities of primary goods such as cement, limestone… 9 These last goods
    would indeed be quite heavy, and this would explain the very large quantities seen in
    the cabotage statistics. That being said, he also argues that there were very limited
    commercial links between Cochinchina and Tonkin. Cochinchina would need to have
    exported light but expensive goods to Tonkin to achieve these higher values. Either
    way, it is also possible that much of this so called cabotage came by or went to
    international partners connected at other ports. Indeed, since Tonkin exported heavy
    goods out of Haiphong, many small ships were a better option than one large ship if
    these were sent to Hong Kong or China. It is thus hard to establish the extent to which
    there was integration of market supply and demand between the two regions.

      Ibid, 26
      Vorapheth, Op.Cit., 549
      Vorapheth, Op.Cit, 551

Sarah Merette
EH590 Seminar
      Our research can provide us with some understanding of the amount of primary
products extracted from Tonkinese mines that were exported towards Cochinchina.
However, no such data can be found for the export of Cochinchinese rice to Tonkin.
The mining enterprises in Tonkin were usually set up on conceded land, and as such
were owned by French entrepreneurs. In the beginning, these entrepreneurs organised
for the majority of the mining product to be sold on the international market. However,
this provoked anger in Indochina as there was a rather large domestic demand for the
products. Progressively, more was sold on the local market: in 1920, 45% of the
‘calibrated’ product from the mining enterprises were exported but by 1924, this was
down to 30%. Nonetheless, for most of the other mining products, the majority was
sold overseas10. This allows us to establish that though the lower end mining products
were partly traded within the Indochinese Union, the great majority of Tonkin’s key
export sector was destined to international sources. As such, it is likely that trade
between the members of the Union was limited.
       For all Tonkinese coal mines, we can see from table 2 that more than half total
coal production was exported abroad between 1921 and 1925. Nonetheless, this still
left a substantial amount of locally, that is within Indochina, sold coal. Table 3 shows
how much coal Cochinchina was importing from Tonkin. As we can see, the total
imports of coal from Tonkin nearly amount for the total imports of coal to
Cochinchina from all sources. In other words, even if coal was one of the only goods
traded between Tonkin and Cochinchina, the latter depended almost entirely on
imports of Tonkinese coal. The totality of other minerals, that is apart from calibrated
products, from Tonkin, however, was exported overseas11.
                     Table 2: Internal and International Coal Sales

                        Production (t) Sales in Indochina             Exports

                1921         920900               365051               325768

                1922         980813               410497               536472

                1923        1056921               451919               547171

                1924        1235880               501726               579486

                1925        1362970               571120               526085

                       Source: Economic Bulletin of Indochina, 1925

   Mr.Raby, ingenieur au corps des mines, chef du service des mines de l’indochine, “L’industrie
miniere en Indochine (Annees 1923 et 1924)” in French Indochina. Service de la Statistique Générale
de l’Indochine. Bulletin Economique de l’Indochine. (1925), 89-126
   BIB SOM D//1702 35

Sarah Merette
EH590 Seminar
                       Table 3: Imports of Coal to Cochinchina (in tons)
                                   From Tonkin            Total Imports
                      1921             36309                   37309
                      1922             56472                   61260
                      1923             89081                  100326
                      1924            114895                  149324
                         Source: Economic Bulletin of Indochina, 1925
The trading relationship between the two regions through waterways is hard to assess
because of limited data availability. However, from what can be seen, it seems that
there certainly was a relationship between the two regions for goods that were
produced exclusively in one of the region. For example, coal was exclusively
available from Tonkin and the majority of Cochinchinese demand for coal was met by
Tonkinese supply. The literature suggests that Cochinchina on the other hand would
have provided some rice as well as some of the other exportable goods it produced but
not proof has yet been found to support this theory. In fact, it seems that the
integration of the two regions was rather limited. Trade, at least from Cochinchina
was more likely to be internationally oriented. Tonkin’s trade was thus more likely to
have been either with the other members of the Union, within itself or with China and
other neighboring economies.
Within Regions
The French authorities developed the railways in French Indochina. Doumer, the
governor general of Indochina in 1898, started to develop railway networks. Railway
networks were mainly confined within the two provinces themselves, rather than
between provinces. It was not until 1937-1938 that the Trans-Indochinese railway
opened for passenger transport. Even then, there was only restricted merchandise
usage because freight charges were too high compared to boats12.As such, the main
networks used for commercial movements were known as the ‘Northern network’ and
the ‘Southern network’, mainly concerning the lines operating within Tonkin and the
lines operating within Cochinchina, respectively. The development of this railway
was for the dual purpose of moving people and merchandise from one region to the
other. As we can see from the below table, during the latter part of French
Indochinese rule, railway use was much more significant in the Northern network
than in the Southern network.
                             Table 4: Statistics of Railway Usage
                             Passengers (1000s)           Tonnage (1000s t)
                            North           South         North       South
               1932          4187            1544          277         117
               1933          4015            1855          251         122
               1934          4804            2433          309         120
               1935          4751            2480          274         135
               1936          5886            2607          344         157
               1937          7475            3281          428         191
                      Source: Economic Bulletins of Indochina, 1933-1938
In fact, table 4. shows that passenger and merchandise use in the Northern network
was more than twice as high than in the Southern network. Bearing in mind that the

     Ibid, 27-29

Sarah Merette
EH590 Seminar
North was about twice as populated as the South, however, we notice that the
difference, in per capita terms, decreased. By the end of the time period, according to
census data, in 1936, there were about 8.68 million people living in Tonkin and 4.616
million people living in Cochinchina. These figures suggest that despite the
population difference, 10% more Tonkinese used the railway than Cochinchinese. In
terms of merchandise, if we keep in mind that in total, Indochina’s ports received
from 2500 thousand tons of merchandise in 1913 to about 5000 in 1935, the amount
of merchandise transported on the railway was rather small. We still see that Northern
networks were significantly more used than Southern network: by the end of the
period, Cochinchina’s railways only transported 40% compared to Tonkin’s. Of
course, this does not tell us the nature of the goods traded but it does act as an
indication to support our previous point that trade within Tonkin was more important
than it was within Cochinchina. Indeed, this is explained both by the extent of the
public works done on roads and railways as well as the usage of these railways. This
would thus continue to suggest that Tonkin was engaged in and equipped for self-
sufficient production within the region.
      Some more specific information was found for internal trade using railroads in
Tonkin and Cochinchina between 1922 and 1935. Indeed, for those years, there are
detailed statistics of the movement of goods on slow speed rail transport for the
Northern and Southern networks as well as more specific movements of good solely
within Tonkin. The information is available from the electronic appendix. The total
transported merchandise on these networks can be found in table 5. The railway usage
in the South seems to have been much lower than in the North. However, the trade
within Cochinchina operated on the Southern Network seems to have been larger than
the trade within Tonkin operated on the Northern Network. Moreover, for the years
where we only have trade within the region, internal transported merchandise within
Cochinchina was much heavier than within Tonkin. This phenomenon seems
contradictory from the previous information found in table 4.
            Table 5: Total Transported Merchandise by Rail in tons
               Within Cochinchina Within Tonkin North South
         1922         249540                290500
         1929          68358
         1930         507838                 81325
         1931         153752                 53401
         1932         109977                 37811
         1933                                32286       241769 115167
         1934                                27508       273145 112482
         1935                                34047       253146 121650
                    Source: Statistical Yearbook of Indochina.
      This would suggest that the Northern rail network was used by Tonkin as an
outlet to either trade with Laos, Northern Annam or China. It could also be said that
the merchandise transported within Cochinchina was being transported by rail to
Saigon and then exported internationally. It is not possible to evaluate this. However,
it could also be that the differences can be explained by the nature of the goods that
were potentially traded within each territory (details in electronic appendix).
Foodstuffs though more intensively produced for trade in the South, were more
transported in the northern railway networks. This can be explained in two ways:

Sarah Merette
EH590 Seminar
firstly, foodstuffs from the South were mainly traded internationally, and what was
traded internally may have been transported by canals. Most of the industrial types of
produced goods were transported by rail in the South rather than in the North, where
mining and primary products were the dominant internally traded goods. If we believe
that what was transported by rail was traded internally and was not ultimately
destined for international export than the trade pattern of Tonkin suggests the
importance of trading subsistence goods. This would support the hypothesis that
Tonkin’s trade pattern was designed around ensuring self-sufficiency of the territory.
                    Table 6: Railway Network Information
            Length Constructed
                                                         Number of Stations
              North      South                            North       South
             Network Network                             Network Network
   1913        493        497
   1922        505        536                               73           65
   1929        979        557                              163           92
   1930        979        557                              163           94
   1931        980        557                              172           95
   1932        999        579                              196           94
   1935       1314        583                              299           94
                 Number of       Weight of Merchandise      Profits (1000s
              Passenger (100s)          (1000s t)              Piastres)
              North      South     North        South     North       South
             Network Network      Network     Network    Network Network
   1922        3153       1391           293          274        450            116
   1929        5740       2084           440          371        417           -166
   1930        4128       2069           400          275        645           -465
   1931        3914       1865           332          159        633           -525
   1932        3348       1874           210          121        212           -375
   1935        4824       2472           264          130       -229           -190
                      Source: Statistical Yearbook of Indochina
      In 1930, there seems to contradictions between two data sources table 5 and 6:
table 5 suggests far more transported merchandise then that what was suggested by
data previously for the Southern network. Indeed, in table 6 we see that for all of the
Southern network only 275000 tons of merchandise were recorded as moved, but in
table 5, we see more than 500 000 tons. In the North, what we find is otherwise:
though the North network carried 400 000 tons, we see that within Tonkin, only 81
000 tons of merchandise were carried. Though less trade within Tonkin compared to
on the whole of the Northern network can be explained by some trade going to China
or Laos/Annam; more trade within Cochinchina than what was transported on the
Southern Network cannot be justified. Even if we assume that the two higher values
are more accurate, this still leaves us with trade within Cochinchina being at times
more significant than within Tonkin. It is possible that the merchandise recorded in
table 6 was for high speed train whereas the merchandise in table 5 was for slow
speed train. If this is the case, then this would indicate that the majority of trade

Sarah Merette
EH590 Seminar
within the Northern network was done at fast speed, presumably meaning larger
distances and indicating that much of this transported merchandise went to China.
      The dominance of Cochinchina’s internal trade through railways again seems to
be based on large amount of combustibles, forest products and construction materials.
In Tonkin we see a more spread out pattern with the majority of transported tonnage
coming from fruit and vegetables. In the case of Tonkin, again the fact that all
categories of goods seem to make use of the railways implies that there was a large
reliance on this means of transport for internal trade. The majority of the transported
merchandise by slow train transported within Cochinchina was for building materials
and such, compared to foodstuffs in Tonkin. This suggests that internal trade in
Cochinchina was aimed at improving infrastructure of the province whereas internal
trade in Tonkin was geared towards ensuring stable food supplies. As such internal
trade in Tonkin can be taken as addressing sustenance needs whereas in Cochinchina,
internal trade was geared towards development purposes.

Internal commerce is difficult to evaluate because of data limitations. However, it is
also important to understand its processes in order to make sense of the economic
relationships that tied the two regions of Tonkin and Cochinchina within the
Indochinese Union. Internal commerce existed between these two regions and within
each regions. Trade between regions was done through the use of the cabotage
network while trade within regions used either the railroads or the networks of canals
within its territory.
        Cabotage information shows us that there was some relationship between
Tonkin and Cochinchina’s markets. It seemed however that the type of good that was
imported or exported through this means differed: in Tonkin heavy low value goods
were exported while in Cochinchina lighter higher value goods were exported; on the
imports side it again seems that the more higher value goods were imported in
Cochinchina than in Tonkin. These characteristics show that Cochinchina’s cabotage
was most definitely not entirely linked to Tonkin, or its imports would have been
heavier and of lower value than what we see. However, other information shows that
there were imports of coal to Cochinchina (almost all of the region’s coal came from
Tonkin) and there were exports of rice from Cochinchina to Tonkin. This trade
relationship shows some complementarity in the two markets but data is too slim to
say much more.
       Information on trade within regions is more extensive. The railroad system
was more extensive in the North than it was in the South and general usage was
higher in the North than the South. This supports the view that the North’s internal
development was aimed at increased internal movement. Nonetheless, movement of
merchandise using slow speed trains was in fact more important for within
Cochinchinese trade than for within Tonkin. Moreover, the types of goods that were
traded shows a greater focus on developmental aims in the South (movement of
construction materials) than in the North which mostly focused on trading subsistence
goods. As such, we see that the economic trajectory of the two regions differed: one
was more focused on subsistence for the region while the other focused more on
developing its economy.


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